New Learning Commons Takes Shape
Friday, December 5, 2008
When the construction that began this past summer is complete, George School’s new, green learning commons and Mollie Dodd Anderson Library will provide a community learning environment with a capacity for three times the number of library users that are accommodated in the current library. Scheduled to open in the fall of 2009, this state-of-the-art academic resource will allow key outcomes of George School’s recent five-year curriculum review to be fully realized.
With the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program and the Religion Department housed in five classrooms and two offices on the second floor, the building will reflect the newly expanded and better-integrated role that IB and religion courses play in the revised curriculum. Head of School Nancy Starmer states, “The changes in our IB and religion offerings emerged from intensive discussion and reflection among the faculty about what it means to be a Friends school.”
One of only four U.S. boarding schools to offer the rigorous IB Diploma Program—and one of the first in the United States to implement it—George School now offers students who do not enroll in the full, two-year Diploma Program the option of pursuing subject-specific IB certificates or taking individual IB classes in over twenty different areas of study. Nancy says, “We decided to expand the IB Program, which has an international, service-oriented perspective that corresponds particularly well to our Friends values. Now students who do not elect to take the full IB Diploma Program can still benefit from this extraordinary and challenging curriculum.”
Also as a result of the curriculum review, George School introduced four new religion courses this fall: Essentials of a Friends Community (required for freshmen and new sophomores), Faith Traditions (required for freshmen), Spiritual Practices (required for returning sophomores), and Holistic Health (required for all sophomores). Nancy explains, “We decided to augment our religion curriculum so that all students would learn about the core values of a Friends educational community and study world religions early in their George School careers.” When the religion classes currently held in Spruance-Alden Science Center move to the new learning commons, more space will become available in Spruance-Alden for the additional science classes that resulted from the curriculum review.
The new learning commons will offer attractive new spaces for both collaborative and individual work. Dean of Faculty and Director of Studies Scott Spence reports, “The curriculum review included the importance of strengthening the collaborative aspects of learning at George School. It also produced ideas about how better to understand and strengthen each individual student’s preferred study habits.”
Group study rooms on both floors offer private spaces for small groups of students and faculty to collaborate on group assignments. The large reading room on the first floor, furnished with wireless and hardwired workstations, is designed to accommodate both collaborative and individual study. Also on the first floor, the Commons Room and outdoor Terrace serve as informal settings for group or individual work. In addition, the first floor includes a flexible, multipurpose conference room.
On the second floor, the reading and study area is designated as an absolutely quiet space for individual study. The nearby learning center will offer students the opportunity to meet with a learning specialist, or to consult reference works about strategies for improving skills such as time management and writing. Due to the capacity of the building and the variety of spaces, the school will be able to develop a new model for evening study halls.
When students enter the new building, they will encounter the Information Center—a welcoming place that allows librarians to be highly visible and accessible. This feature reflects the expanded role that librarians have assumed in the twenty-first century. Library Director Linda Heinemann says, “More than ever before, today’s librarians serve as advisors who collaborate closely with students and faculty to help them identify and access the best sources of information for any class assignment. In the process, we teach research habits that promote independent work.”
You can see a live video of the learning commons and library construction on George School’s website.